Remembering the battle at Minisink

By DAVID HULSE

MINISINK FORD, NY — Along with the anniversary of the nation’s birth, July also marks the anniversary of a local event that played a role in that birth, the Battle of Minisink.

This year marks several regional milestones. It is the 250th anniversary of the first white settlement in the Upper Delaware, the Delaware Company’s settlement of Cushetunk at present day Cochecton, and the 225th anniversary of that July 22, 1779 engagement in the woods above the confluence of the Lackawaxen and Delaware rivers.

The terrain of the Town of Highland site is one of the few Revolutionary War battle sites that have remained undeveloped, and visitors at the county-owned park today can readily visualize the guerrilla-style engagement.

The hilly, rocky terrain is one reason that the site has survived, but comparative dates of first white settlement and the battle also weigh in. With just over two decades of settlement, the Upper Delaware was frontier country in 1779, connected with the outside world only by walking trails and stream courses.

How and why would opposing forces come to this wild region and why would a small engagement in the wilderness matter in the larger war?

By the summer of 1779, the major fighting in the north was all but completed. Washington’s army had prevailed over the British in the last major engagement at Monmouth, NJ more than a year earlier. The British had retired to New York City and Washington held them in a pseudo-siege from his headquarters at Newburgh, NY.

The British attempted to divert American attention by renewing ties with former allies among the tribes of the still-powerful Iroquois Confederation. A series of raids on outlying American communities was begun as a harassing action.

A Mohawk chief, Thayendanega, was the brother-in-law of former British Indian Commissioner Sir William Johnson. Thayendanega, also known as Joseph Brant, or Brandt, was well educated and traveled. He once spoke before the British Parliament. He was a principal leader in the tribe.

In the summer of 1779, Brant led a raiding party, estimated at about 80 Indians and American British sympathizers known as Tories in raids down the Delaware Valley.

The raids drove frontier settlers to more populated areas like Port Jervis, then known as Peenpack, and Brant followed, raiding and burning homes on July 20, 1779.

His incursion prompted the raising of local militia from Goshen, NY and Sussex County, NJ led by Benjamin Tusten and John Hathorn.

There is little detail, but what is known is that a party of more than 100 militia pursued the Mohawk chief up into the wilds of the Upper Delaware. The militia caught up at present day Minisink Ford, where a botched ambush split the militia forces and Brant eventually trapped and slaughtered some 46 of the remaining militia after a day-long fight.

Pike County Historian George J. Fluhr has found that the percentage of dead, compared to the number of those engaged at Minisink, is the highest at any battle during the revolution. Most of the dead lay on the field for 43 years, until a mass grave was made in Barryville’s old Congregational Church yard, where a historic marker still stands. Remains later were returned to Goshen for burial and a battle monument was dedicated at the site in 1879.

The battle has usually been a footnote, if mentioned at all, in histories of the war, but some believe that Brant’s delay in withdrawing from the Delaware raids and reaching other British-Tory forces may have played a role in the August 29, 1779 victory of American General John Sullivan at the Battle of Newtown in Chemung County.

Sullivan had marshaled an invasion force essentially behind Brant, to the south and west in Pennsylvania and marched north, while Brant was along the Upper Delaware. Sullivan’s campaign into the Iroquois heartland destroyed Iroquois towns and resources and ended the confederation’s active role in the war.

July 17-18 weekend schedule

The Navising Long Rifles, an 18th Century re-enactment group, will demonstrate colonial musketry, cooking and discuss the life of the pioneers. The re-enactors will be camped out all weekend at the Minisink Battleground Park and they welcome visitors of all ages to their camp.

On Sunday, July 18 the following events will take place:

• At 2:30 p.m. area historians Mary Curtis and Peter Osborne will lead a discussion about the background of the battle at the under the park’s covered picnic pavilion.

• At 4:00 p.m. annual commemoration ceremonies take place at the battle monument. Sullivan County Legislative Chair Chris Cunningham will host the Sullivan County Historical Society program, which will include memorials, a military salute and a keynote address from Pike County Historian and battle-student George J. Fluhr.

• Immediately following commemoration ceremonies, at 5:00 p.m. the Upper Delaware Heritage Alliance is sponsoring a picnic supper at the pavilion. Hamburgers, hot dogs and soda will be provided and guests are asked to contribute dishes to share.

The park is located on County Road 168, about one mile from its intersection with Route 97 at the Roebling Bridge. For more information, call 845/292-6609.

Lackawaxen ceremonies

Pike County’s annual battle commemoration program will be held on Thursday, July 22, at 4:00 p.m., at the gravesite on Scenic Drive in Lackawaxen.

TRR photo by David Hulse
The Minisink Battle Monument at the Battleground Park was erected for the centennial in 1879. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by David Hulse
The county park on County Road 168 features trails, interpretive signage, a small visitors center, parking and a picnic area. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by David Hulse
The battle is also commemorated in Lackawaxen, PA, where a casualty, known only as the Unknown Soldier of the Revolutionary War, is buried alongside Scenic Drive. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by David Hulse
A period re-creation group will camp at the park and participate in the weekend commemoration of the Battle of Minisink. (Click for larger version)